Wednesday 21 August 2019

Guardiola hits back at claims of strategic City fouling

Solskjaer accusation draws ire of counterpart as Blues gear up for biggest test in title run-in

Pep Guardiola. Photo: Adam Davy/PA
Pep Guardiola. Photo: Adam Davy/PA

Chris Bascombe

The most critical Manchester derby in years will be played amid a festering managerial row, with Pep Guardiola accusing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer of piling undue pressure on the referee with claims of City's tactical fouling.

Solskjaer said City would use "aggressive" means "snapping at heels and ankles" to halt Manchester United counter-attacks in tonight's Old Trafford meeting - repeating an assertion made by predecessor Jose Mourinho against the champions last season.

Guardiola, who had earlier expressed his sympathy for Solskjaer's tough rebuilding job at United, was visibly shocked and irritated by the allegation.

"Did he say that?" asked the City manager. "So we are going to make fouls to them? I don't like it. No. My team is not built for that, not at all.

"I never prepare a game in 10 seasons as a manager thinking about these kind of things. Never.

"The players can talk about it better than me about that - the players I had at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and here. Never have I said to one player to make fouls to avoid something (counter-attacks).

"In football, sometimes you do that because in football the action is quick and fast. But I'm concerned about many, many other things about the game to have to play to beat them than these kinds of things.

"Maybe tomorrow in the press conference after the game you can ask him again about that."

Asked directly if he felt such comments could influence tonight's referee, Andre Marriner, Guardiola responded: "That's the reason why, of course."

The Spanish coach's bemusement was fuelled by his supporting statistics.

He pointed to City's average ball possession of 65 to 70 per cent, meaning they have committed fewer fouls per game than any Premier League team this season.

City have received 38 yellow cards this season compared to United's 64, one red card against United's four, and overall have committed 170 fouls compared to United's 195.

"I know exactly what I said to my players from day one to the last day," said Guardiola.

"So when a player wants to attack, we have to be honest. Of course there is contact, there are fouls, but when it happens and you arrive late, that is why there are referees - to produce yellow cards or red cards or whatever. They decide."

Earlier, Solskjaer warned his players about fouls high up the pitch.

"You don't get the yellow cards, do you?" said the United head coach. "But that's just because they commit so many players forward and you can clearly see that they've got them in that mould of trying to win the ball back, and they do make fouls. It's up to us to play through that press, be ready enough, play one- and two-touch, don't give them time."

"When we win it we have got to be ready for their aggression, because they will snap at your ankles and heels and kick you, they are not going to allow us easy counter-attacking because there will be fouls, I have absolutely no doubt about it because when you watch those games they commit so many players forward and they will be stopping us as high as they can I think."

Rarely have the stakes been higher going into a Manchester derby. City need a victory to keep the Premier League title destiny in their own hands, while United face a year outside the Champions League unless they can end their dismal run.

Guardiola says the nature of United's heavy defeat by Everton at Goodison Park last Sunday would give the home side more motivation.

"United players have lost the last game 4-0. I know what would be our reaction," said Guardiola.

"I saw the game, I imagine what will happen against us. That's what is going to happen. We have to accept it. That's the challenge.

"I know how strong they'll be in terms of intensity and we'll have to handle it. We did it in the past, I don't know about tomorrow, but we'll do it again. I like my team and I trust them a lot. We have to do it.

"I expect the best United. They are bright. Football players try to do their best and tomorrow is going to happen. We prepare for their strong points and weak points.

"It is a derby and all the times we play against United, the derbies are always special games and the players do their best for the fans the club.

"I don't make theories about what happened in the past for what is going to happen in the future. Every game is completely different. The reason why is the fact this club in the past decade grew a lot and it is not scary to go there.

"Before it was maybe more difficult. The players Manchester City had in the past decade made this game a little bit more equal."

City are without midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, but Guardiola says Phil Foden is ready to step in if required.

Amid the rancour, Guardiola expressed understanding for Solskjaer's challenge in trying to revive United. "Our world, our position, I am close to Solskjaer, I understand perfectly his position," said Guardiola.

"We feel alone and that is why I understand completely his position.

"It happens to all the managers around the world. That is the reality. I understand him perfectly. I support him."

Asked if he thought Solskjaer deserved much longer to rebuild, Guardiola added: "Everybody needs time. At the same time, you don't get time."

Meanwhile, Raheem Sterling has claimed he would prefer not to be considered for the Professional Footballers' Association Player of the Year award if City fail to win the title.

The England forward is one of three City players who have been shortlisted.

"It's nice to be recognised on that front but, to be honest, if we don't win the Premier League, I don't really want to be in contention," he said.

"What I want to do is win the Premier League, win the FA Cup, then think about stuff like that even though the awards are before that. Without that, it doesn't mean much to me really.

"There are four games to go, five including the (FA Cup final against) Watford. If someone said that at the start of the season we'd bite their hand off to play these games (for a domestic treble), but it's a great position to be in, something if we don't do we'll be very disappointed in ourselves." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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